Women's Volleyball |
Aug. 24, 2007
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SETTING THE SCENE: The University of Cincinnati opens its 2007 volleyball season this weekend, hosting the annual State Farm Bearcats Invitational presented by the Vernon Manor Hotel. The Bearcats will try to build on a streak of 12 consecutive 20-win seasons this year and will count on eight returning letterwinners to do so. UC opens tournament action on Friday (Aug. 24) taking on Southern Miss at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday featuring matches with Oakland (Noon) and Maryland (7:30 p.m.).
NOTING THE BEARCATS:
UC will try to stretch its streak of 20-win seasons to 13 during the 2007 season. The Bearcats have won at least 20 matches in each of head coach Reed Sunahara's seven seasons.
The Bearcats are likely to start a pair of true freshman in setter Annie Fesl and outside hitter Stephanie Niemer. The duo will join four starters and libero Jaime Frey returning from 2006.
Cincinnati ranked ninth nationally in blocks per game last season and return junior Jessie Nevitt in the middle. Nevitt ranked sixth in the nation with 1.68 per game last year.
UC has enjoyed great success on its home floor in recent years, including a 13-2 mark last season.
ABOUT THE TOURNAMENT: The 2007 State Farm Bearcats Invitational presented by the Vernon Manor Hotel features the Bearcats and three other foes, including former Conference USA rival Southern Miss. Joining UC and USM in the field will be Oakland and Maryland. The Bearcats had the best record of the tournament field in 2006, finishing at 22-7. Southern Miss, under head coach Ricci Luyties, a former college teammate of UC mentor Reed Sunahara was 15-18. Maryland completed its campaign at 13-18, while Oakland was 1-25. The schedule for the weekend is as follows:
Friday, Aug. 24
Oakland vs. Maryland, 5 p.m.; Southern Miss at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 25
Maryland vs. Southern Miss, 10 a.m.; Oakland at Cincinnati, Noon
Southern Miss at Oakland, 5 p.m.; Maryland at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
BEARCATS PICKED SIXTH IN BIG EAST POLL: The 2007 preseason BIG EAST Conference coaches poll was a disappointment for Cincinnati as the Bearcats were selected to finish sixth in the league. The mark represented the lowest in-conference ranking the Bearcats have received since Reed Sunahara took over as head coach in 2000. UC finished last year tied for third in the BIG EAST and returns eight letterwinners, including four starters. Notre Dame was a one-point favorite to win the league title over Louisville, with St. John's, Pittsburgh and Marquette rounding out the top-five.
NEVITT NAMED TO PRESEASON ALL-BIG EAST SQUAD: Junior middle blocker Jessie Nevitt was Cincinnati's lone representative on the preseason all-BIG EAST squad, selected by the league coaches. A two-time first team all-league choice, Nevitt led the BIG EAST in blocks per game (1.68) last year and was second with a .367 hitting percentage.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Volleyball and University of Cincinnati athletics run in the bloodlines of three of the Bearcats' freshmen. Both Kimi Nakamura and Lindsay Upton have brothers that play other sports at Cincinnati, while Annie Fesl's older sister Megan plays volleyball at BIG EAST rival Notre Dame. Nakamura is the younger sister of Haruki, a three-year starter on the UC football team. Upton's older brother A.J., is a senior relief pitcher on the Bearcat baseball squad.
TOURNAMENT SUCCESS: Since the Bearcats Invitational was reintroduced in 2003 after a 13-year hiatus, Cincinnati has been nothing short of dominate in the event. The Bearcats have won three of the four tournament titles, posted an 11-1 record in matches and a 34-5 games mark.
HOME COURT HEROES: Cincinnati has enjoyed a strong home court advantage since the opening of Fifth Third Arena in 1989. In the 17 years the building has been in existence, the Bearcats have posted a 148-58 (.718) record at home and are 83-11 (.883) over the past eight seasons. During the program's time in Fifth Third, it has enjoyed two lengthy win streaks, including a school-record 23 match string that ended in 2004. At the time the streak was snapped, it represented the third-longest active streak in the nation. UC's loss to Notre Dame in the BIG EAST Championship on Nov. 17, 2006 snapped the Bearcats' 10-match home court win streak. The Bearcats ended last year with a 13-2 home mark.
DEE-FENSE: The Bearcats' defense, especially along the backline should be a strength this year as UC boasts two accomplished libero candidates on its roster. Sophomore Jaime Frey, the BIG EAST leader in digs in 2006 with 5.43, will likely start the season at libero, a position she took over for an injured Natalie Dossman early last year. Dossman, the starter in 2004 and a regular contributor throughout her career, is back to full strength and will see extended time as a defensive specialist. The team captain averaged 5.62 digs per game in limited play last year and holds a career average of 2.75. UC dug 17.09 balls per game in 2006, the highest team total since 2000 and the third-best mark in the BIG EAST.
PLAYER TO COACH: A familiar face will join head coach Reed Sunahara on the bench this year as four-year starter Myanna Hellsten has joined the staff as an assistant coach. During her career, Hellsten was a two-time all-conference performer and was the only UC player ever with 1,000 kills and 500 career blocks. Hellsten will continue the trend of former Bearcats on the sideline, following in the shoes of the late Stephanie (Meinig) Rosfeld and Chrissy Smith.
EXPERIENCE MATTERS: For the Bearcats to succeed this season, UC will have to find a way to support all-American Jessie Nevitt offensively. Two players with the experience to do that are senior right-side hitter Jenny Custer and junior outside hitter Jessica Elley. Now in her third year as a starter, Custer has been a steady force for the Bearcats, averaging over three kills and two digs per game in each of the last two years. She showed improved blocking ability with a career-high 1.00 blocks per game. Elley enjoyed a breakout 2006 season, leading the team with 3.54 kills per game and adding 3.37 digs and 0.99 blocks per game.